In an evening that even the master showman Dr. Jerry Buss, who passed away on Monday, may not have been able to script, the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Boston Celtics 113-99 in their first game since the Buss’s death.
Kobe Bryant scored 16 points. Steve Nash surpassed Magic Johnson for fourth place on the NBA’s all-time assists list. For one night, Dwight Howard played liked he belonged in Los Angeles, scoring 24 points and grabbing 12 rebounds on the night Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak reportedly told the enigmatic center he would not be traded and the Lakers considered him a part of the franchise’s future.
But all that was an afterthought on this night,
Wednesday night was about Buss and his legacy.
Bryant led the crowd in a moving tribute before the game, calling Buss the greatest owner to ever live who had a generous heart and a will to win. Bryant pointed the crowd to Buss’s empty chair, which had a spotlight shining on it, before leading fans in a moment of silence. The Lakers will wear a purple and gold “JB” patch on their uniforms to honor Buss for the rest of the season.
Buss, the visionary, created the “Showtime” brand of basketball and, in so doing, helped save the NBA after he bought the Lakers in 1979. Buss hated the Celtics, and the Los Angeles-Boston rivalry took the NBA to new heights in the 1980s, and set the stage for the Michael Jordan era in the 1990s.
The Lakers-Celtics matchup on Wednesday was in itself a perfect tribute to Buss and a reminder of how vital those two franchises have been to the NBA’s growth.
Bryant noted, after the game, the Lakers desperately wanted to win the game for their late, beloved owner. He said the game was “important” because Buss purchased the Lakers to defeat the Celtics and wanted badly for the Lakers to surpass Boston’s 17 NBA championships. Buss fell one title short before he passed away, as the Lakers have 16 championships. The Lakers can tie the Celtics if they do the improbable and win the championship this year. But to that, they will have to first make the playoffs, which is not even guaranteed for a team that made it to the NBA finals nearly one out of every two years Buss owned the team.
The Lakers begin the post-Buss era three games behind the Houston Rockets in the loss column for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot.